Indian hockey’s glorious past met its gloomy present on Wednesday when Hockey India felicitated the 1975 World Cup-winning team while announcing the 18-man squad for the upcoming showpiece event.
Thirty-nine years after the achievement, the national federation felicitated 13 living members of the side with a cheque of Rs 1,75,000 each. Three members from that all-conquering side – Surjit Singh and Shivaji Pawar and Mohinder Singh – have passed since away but their family members collected the cheques.
Ajit Pal Singh, the captain of the 1975 team, Ashok Kumar, Aslam Sher Khan, Brigadier (retd) Harcharan Singh, Leslie Fernandez, Varinder Singh, Ashok Diwan, Michael Kindo, BP Govinda, Brigadier (retd) HJS Chimni, VJ Phillips, Onkar Singh and Kaliah PE were each honoured India, who have won eight Olympic golds in hockey, have won the World Cup only once under the captaincy of Ajit Pal. He hoped that the triumph of the 1975 team would inspire the current team to put up a good show in the World Cup. “I hope that our success in the 1975 World Cup would inspire the current team to put up a good show at the World Cup. I am confident that they will give their best to finish among the best teams in the world,” he said.
HI started the initiative of felicitating players in 2012, when all the living Olympic gold medallists were invited and presented one-time payment of Rs. 2 lakh, on the occasion of wishing the then Indian squad, which was representing the country during the London Olympics that year.
However, some felt the recognition came too late in the day. Legendary player and chief coach of India’s 1975 World Cup winning team, Balbir Singh Sr, said: “It is unfortunate. Or rather, it shows that for so many years, there has been no achievement at the Olympic or World Cup level, which is sad.
“The honour I got by making the team victorious cannot be expressed in words and definitely, it cannot be measured in any amount of money. Of course, I am happy today that my boys are being honoured and felicitated, but if I was there and among them, it would have made me more happier,” added the 90-year-old.
Pained by the steady decline of Indian hockey over the years, the legend felt that to bring back the golden period, a serious effort has to be made.
“I don’t want to blame any particular person. There has to be a combined effort. The amount they pay to Olympians is also very low. I am not against foreign coaches, they are highly qualified, but I feel there is a gap in communication and problems in bonding with the players,” he said.
Leslie Fernandez, a retired railways employee, wants Hockey India to involve former players more in making technical decisions. “We want more recognition. Not in terms of money, but we want that the HI should rope us in for technical guidance,” he said.
The event was also attended by Arun Jaitley, member advisory board Hockey India League (HIL) and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ajit M. Sharan, secretary Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Jiji Thomson, director general Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Rajeev Mehta, secretary general Indian Olympic Association (IOA).